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AZERBAIJAN
 

Geography and Landscape

Geography

Azerbaijan is located in southwestern Asia in the Caucasus between Iran and Russia and also borders the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan is also bordered by Armenia, Georgiaand Turkey. Azerbaijan's surface is 86,600 km2 (including Nagorny-Karabakh enclave).

Azerbaijan Satellite PhotoPhoto: Public Domain

Landscape

The landscape is dominated by the Greater Caucasus, which is a high mountain range. The highest peak in the eastern part (Bazardüzü, on the border with Dagestan) reaches up to 4466 m. The Lesser Caucasus is hardly less than that: 3904 m in Naxçivan. Both chains are separated from each other by the wide valley of the Kura, a deep depression that slopes down to the Caspian Sea.

Azerbaijan LandscapePhoto: Gulustan Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

In 2008, the Caspian Sea was approximately 28 meters below sea level, which means that a large part of the coastal area, including the Caspian Low, is also below sea level. The water level in the sea has declined in recent decades due to low rainfall and dams reduced water supply from the Volga. In a more distant past, however, the sea has been even smaller than today. The sea is deepest in the southern part;the northern basin is very shallow in most places. The two basins are separated by a shallower section that connects the peninsulas of Apsheron (Azerbaijan) and Chelec (Turkmenistan). The sea also includes the nearly closed-off inlet Garabogazköl in Turkmenistan.

Climate and Weather

Azerbaijan SunrisePhoto: Public Domain

Due to the geographical diversity, there are quite a few differences in the climate per region. The coast of the Caspian Sea has a lot of wind. The regular storms make the temperature bearable. Winters are not too cold, but that changes higher in the mountains. Heavy snowfall is a common phenomenon in the Caucasus. The center of the country is dry, but the forests in the south receive enough rain, especially in October, November and March. The average temperature is between 20 and 30 degrees in spring and summer.

Plants and Animals

Plants

Azerbaijan Flowering MaplePhoto: Krzysztof Ziarnek

Both mountain ranges are sparsely overgrown with flora that is characteristic of the high mountains. Several peaks are covered with snow all or almost all year round. Oak, beech and maples grow on the lower slopes. The plain of the Kura has a steppe landscape.

Animals

Sturgeon AzerbaijanPhoto: Cacophony Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The animal world is sometimes still wild. Bears and tigers are still found in remote parts of the high mountains, although they are rarely seen. There is a rich population of small ungulates, including chamois, wild boar and wild goats. The fish-rich Caspian Sea is the habitat of the sturgeon;80% of the world's caviar production is mined here. The number of species of birds is large, partly thanks to the establishment of special bird reserves.

History

Azerbaijan has been occupied by foreign powers for most of its history. Around 640 AD Arab armies entered the area- which also introduced Islam- followed by Mongol troops and from the 11th century to the 15th century by Turkish rule. The result of this Turkish rule was that the Azeris adopted a Turkish language.

Azerbaijan Music Group 16th centuryPhoto: Public domain

From the end of the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire and the Tsarist Russia fought for hegemony in the region. After that, the Iranian influence increased. From the 18th century on, Russia became an increasingly powerful power, seeking and gaining influence in the Caucasus. The 1828 Treaty of Tourkmanchai established the influence over the area: the northern part (roughly the contours of present-day Azerbaijan) was assigned to Russia, while the southern part was assigned to Iran.

Azerbaijan was independent from 1918 to 1920. Then it became part of the Soviet Union. In 1988 serious tensions arose between Azerbaijan and the Armenian enclave Nagorny Karabakh, which is located in Azerbaijan. This led to outbreaks of violence against ethnic Armenians. When the situation got out of hand, Soviet troops bloodily attempted to restore order, fueling anti-Russian sentiment in Azerbaijan.

In 1991 Azerbaijan became independent. The first years of independence were characterized by fierce rivalry between rulers, economic malaise and the ongoing quarrel over the Nagorny-Karabakh enclave. After mass protests over the defeats in the war with Armenia, the first elected president Mutalibov fled to Moscow. His successor, President Elchibey, appointed former KGB chief Heydar Aliyev parliament speaker. However, President Elchibey was driven out by an advancing rebel army led by warlord Surat Husseinov. Heydar Aliyev then made a pact with this warlord, who was appointed prime minister on that occasion. Presidential elections were called after a popular referendum in which the people lost faith in the president who had fled. On October 3, 1993, Aliyev was first elected in direct presidential elections. He remained in power until 2003, after which he passed power from his sickbed to his son Ilham. He easily won the presidential elections in October 2003 and was immediately appointed president.

Ilham Aliyev AzerbaijanPhoto: The Chancellery of the Senate of the Republic of Poland CCAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Poland no changes made

In November 2005, the ruling New Azerbaijan Party won the parliamentary elections by a big margin. International observers question the democratic content of the elections. In June 2007, Russian President Putin offered a radar station in Azerbaijan as an alternative to US plans to build a missile defense system in Europe. In March 2008 heavy fighting broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia and Azerbaijan accuse each other of starting it. Ilham Aliyev wins the presidential election in October 2008. In November 2008, Azerbaijan and Armenia sign a treaty in which the countries indicate their intention to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. A referendum will be held in March 2009 to allow Ilham Aliyev to be elected for a third time, winning with almost 92% of the vote. No breakthrough was achieved in the Nagorno-Karabakh talks in November 2009. In April 2010, the head of the Armenian Church will visit Azerbaijan and try to contribute to the peace process. In October 2013, Ilham Aliyev wins the presidential election again. In November 2015, the ruling party won the parliamentary elections boycotted by the main opposition parties. In 2016 and 217, the conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh occasionally flares up in February 2017, Aliyev appoints his wife as first vice president. At the end of 2020, Azerbaijan captured territory in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Population

Azerbaijani BakuPhoto: Gulustan Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Azerbaijan is home to 9,961,396 million people (2017). The population density is more than 105 inhabitants per square kilometer.
Natural population growth is 0.87%. (2017)
Birth rate per 1000 inhabitants is 15.8 (2017)
Death rate per 1000 inhabitants is 7.1 (2017)
Life expectancy is 72.8 years. (men 69.7 and women 76.1 years (2017).

Language

Azeri spreadPhoto: Fobos 92 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The official language is Azeri, spoken by about 90% of the population. Azeri belongs to the Turkish language group. Within the Turkish languages, Azeri is one of the Oghuz languages together with Turkish, Gagauz and Turkmen. Outside of Azerbaijan, Azeri is spoken in the province of the same name in Iran and in small areas of Georgia and East Turkey. There are an estimated total of around 30 million people who speak Azeri.

Other languages spoken in Azerbaijan are Russian and Armenian.

Religion

Azerbaijan Mosque of Baku Photo: Peretz Partensky

The population of Azerbaijan is generally and traditionally Muslim (almost 95%). In Azerbaijan, the Shia variant is professed. In the Soviet era, the population became increasingly secularized. As a result, religious involvement is low and the experience is mainly cultural in nature. The constitution of Azerbaijan guarantees religious freedom. In Azerbaijan there are also communities of Russian and Armenian Orthodox.

Society

State structure

Azerbaijan Parliament BuildingPhoto: Diego Delso Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International no changes made

In 1995, a new Constitution was passed by referendum to replace the Soviet-era Constitution. Within Azerbaijan lie the Autonomous Republic of Nakhichevan and the Armenian enclave of Nagorny-Karabakh. The local leadership of Nagorny-Karabakh has declared the enclave independent, but this is not recognized internationally.

The president is directly elected for five years and can be re-elected at most once. He appoints the cabinet and, in consultation with parliament, the prime minister and the heads of local authorities. The president has great powers. In 2002, several constitutional amendments were made through a referendum. One of the most important is the fact that from now on the president no longer needs a two-thirds majority in elections, but that an absolute majority (i.e. 51% of the votes cast) is sufficient. In addition, it has been decided that in the event that the president is unable to exercise his office, his powers will revert to the prime minister, rather than the parliament speaker, in the period before new presidential elections.

Parliament (Milli Majlis) has 125 seats and is directly elected through a district system for a period of 5 years. Despite its theoretical powers, this parliament has little power in practice. Aliyev's New Azerbaijani Party (NAP) has a majority in parliament. The opposition is divided. Parliamentary elections were held on 6 November 2005 and were assessed by the OSCE as neither free nor fair, despite some progress made over the previous elections.

In Azerbaijan, the judiciary consists of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Economic Court and the regular and specialized courts. Unfortunately, the legal system has so far been little developed. The president appoints lower courts and can nominate candidates to the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the Economic Court, who are then appointed by Parliament.

Politics

Azerbaijan Negotiations Nagorno-Karabakh Photo: Kremlin.ru

Most of the population in Azerbaijan is aloof from domestic politics. Sometimes there are protests, especially in connection with the poor energy distribution, but these are generally short-lived. Due to the weak opposition, there is little chance of political instability. Since the parliamentary elections in November, the opposition has grown somewhat stronger. This is mainly due to international pressure to make the elections fairer. The main opposition parties are Musavat, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party and the Azerbaijani Democratic Party (united in the Azadliq block).

An important point in domestic politics is Nagorny-Karabakh. This conflict has still not come to an end. Despite peace negotiations, this does not seem to be happening for the time being. There are still sporadic fighting, but it is expected that the conflict will no longer break out in full force, as in the 1990s.

For the current political situation see chapter history.

Economy

Azerbaijan ExportPhoto: R Haussmann, Cesar Hidalgo, et. al CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

The stabilization and reform program started in 1995 has led to economic growth again from 1996, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This growth was mainly caused by the high direct investment in the oil industry. This has resulted in the economy being highly dependent on oil.

Unemployment is 18.9% of the labor force. The Azerbaijanis still see little of the high oil yields. All additional proceeds go into the State Fund to be able to absorb any setbacks in the future. This fund is also intended to reduce poverty.

Inflation and budget deficits are small. As a result, the external debt has also remained relatively low. However, structural reforms are needed in the rest of the economy, which is inefficient. Due to weak implementation and high corruption, tax revenues remain low. Slow reforms are being implemented in the banking sector, for example to make it more liquid.

While privatization of small and medium-sized businesses is nearing completion, it has yet to begin at large companies. Furthermore, the development of non-oil sectors, such as agriculture, is necessary to diversify the economy more. Finally, high levels of corruption should also be tackled.

Holidays and Weather

Azerbaijan Lerik WaterfallPhoto: Emin Bashirov Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Tourism could potentially be an important part of the Azerbaijani economy, there is plenty to see and experience in Azerbaijan, especially natural and cultural attractions. It seemed to be heading that way in the 1980s, but the war in Nagorno-Karabakh seriously damaged Azerbaijan's tourist image. It was not until the beginning of this century that tourism to Azerbaijan recovered, partly because the government of the country has declared tourism as a top priority, and is mainly targeting the higher segment of tourists. Most tourists come from Russia, Turkey, Iran and India.

Azerbaijan Baku Old TownPhoto: Khortan Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported no changes made

Major tourist highlights are the capital Baku, and in particular the walled city center Icheri Sheker, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Baku also has the 12th century Kyz-Kalasy tower, the Dhuma mosque with the cloth museum and the Synyk Kalah minaret is the oldest building in the city.

Azerbaijan KobustanPhoto: Walter Callens in the public domain

Outside Baku, the Kobustan World Heritage Site attracts many visitors due to its more than 10,000 year old rock carvings. Near the border with Georgia is Sheki, one of the oldest cities in Azerbaijan, its main attraction being the 18th century summer palace of the Khan. Absheron is a peninsula with a nature park and a number of 14th century fortresses, including the fortresses in Mardkyany, Nardar and Ramana, which are still in good condition.
There are about 250 lakes in Azerbaijan, one of the most beautiful is Lake Gey-Gel, surrounded by wooded mountains at an altitude of 1556 meters. Of the approximately 800 mud volcanoes in the world. there are about 300 in Azerbaijan. Around Baku there are a number of beaches that are frequented, as well as the many discos and night clubs that Baku has.

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Sources

Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated August 2021
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